Tattoos and Painted Nails: Taking Back My Body

*Trigger Warning: self-harm, depression, anxiety*

I sat down on the carpet and pulled the coffee table up close. Picking my supplies up off the floor next to me, I placed them on top of the paper towels; it wasn’t until later that I discovered I needed another layer, or maybe just different paper towels. I stared at the bottles of nail polish with a sense of anxious excitement that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

Of course no one noticed my awkwardly painted nails, or maybe they did and just didn’t care. But to me, they meant so much more than I could explain at the time. They were small symbols of a rebellious femininity I refused to acknowledge for decades.

The good thing about nail polish is its impermanence, the way it fades as it meets the realities of day-to-day living. It feels more suited to my hands after it’s started to chip – more raw and honest. However, when I started this transition – from adolescent to adult, from living a lie to unapologetic authenticity, from intensely hating my body to passionately loving myself – I chose a much more permanent symbol.

I never wanted tattoos as a kid. I remember asking my dad why he had one on his shoulder if the church didn’t allow them, and his explanations always involved the word “mistake.” The shame in his voice was palpable, a reminder of the divine laws and eternal consequences for how we use our bodies.

Despite the teachings of my childhood, I no longer felt the same way about my body. Maybe it’s more appropriate to say that I finally felt in control of my body after I came out. I finally started to love my body and myself, and that made all the difference. After more than seven years of self-harm, I resolved to treat my body the opposite way I was taught to treat it.

In other words, I was not going to force harm upon it anymore, especially not through self-injury.

It was an important moment for me. It was two and a half months later than my one year mark, but at least I followed through (something that seldom happened for 19 year-old me). I felt like the June bugs from my childhood, leaving behind a shell that I had finally outgrown. But it was more than that; it was a triumph I never thought I would achieve during the first six-months of my year long battle. I was celebrating overcoming an intense bout of depression, anxiety, and seven years of self-harm.

Continue reading “Tattoos and Painted Nails: Taking Back My Body”

Activists: Say NO to a Third Gender Marker

I was shocked when I heard that non-binary gender was legal here in Oregon. The overwhelming hatred against our community by the government, the “criminal” “justice” system, and individual and communal violence in the past few years has damaged my ability to hope for meaningful change. In fact, shortly after hearing this news, the shooting in Orlando happened. It seems that no matter what policy changes we gain, the violence persists.

Maybe that’s why I wasn’t too hopeful after I processed the news that Jamie Shupe was the first legally genderless person in the United States. As a non-binary activist, my mind went straight to what this would look like in terms of policy – and I started to worry.

How will the government apply this ruling? What will the requirements be to change sex/gender on legal documents? Will we be able to remove gender markers from our documents, or will they add a third option? How will this process include refugee new arrivals and asylum seekers? How will it include our indigenous and undocumented siblings? Who will this ruling be accessible to?

Most importantly, whose voices will be at the forefront? Over the past few decades, the “LGBT Movement” has largely been a legal and policy reform battle funded by those with the money to effect change. Our revolutionary history has faded, and our community has become increasingly divided by privilege and power. Continue reading “Activists: Say NO to a Third Gender Marker”

(Un)Learning How to Take Up Space

Author’s note: The use of public space by different people is a complex issue. It gets even more complicated when you factor in race, ability, age, class, and other things. I am writing as a  white, transfeminine, genderqueer, lower class, able-bodied, young person with mental illness. There are many problems that I do not face because of my identities that others do. I highly recommend reading more about these issues from the perspective of people of color, differently-abled people, and those with other marginalized identities to fully grasp the depth of the problems associated with inhabiting public space.

Manspreading is a term that describes men spreading their legs out when they are sitting or standing in public places. To many, talking about “manspreading” seems trivial, if not downright stupid. However, the act of manspreading is important to understanding systems of power and oppression in our society. It is one out of many behaviors that result from being socialized as a man, and discussing it is part of a greater conversation about male privilege.

There are a lot of important questions around these behaviors that often aren’t noticed, discussed, or challenged. For example: Why is it “normal,” or even appropriate, for men to take up so much public space? Do many of us even recognize that men generally take up more public space than women? Why are women socialized to take up less public space? Where do trans/non-binary people fit when they’ve been socialized to take up public space according to the gender they were assigned at birth? Continue reading “(Un)Learning How to Take Up Space”

“Faggot” and “That’s So Gay”: The Issue of Intent and Impact

People used to always assure me that they didn’t mean to insult queer people. After all, they were raised using “faggot” and “that’s so gay” in a way that was detached from the idea of queer people altogether. They were just harmless words, and didn’t indicate their feelings toward gay people.

This is an argument I used to accept. I used to think to myself: “Well, I guess now that I know they don’t mean anything hurtful by it, it would be silly for me to be offended.” Wrong.

There are two major problems with non-queer people using words and phrases like “faggot” and “that’s so gay.” First, they aren’t their words to use, even when queer people they know use them. Second, the intent really doesn’t matter when the impact is overwhelmingly negative. To learn more about how these words are meant to shame femininity and why that’s a problem, check out my article here. Continue reading ““Faggot” and “That’s So Gay”: The Issue of Intent and Impact”

I Was Homophobic, Transphobic, and Misogynistic: My Journey to Acceptance

Faggot, pussy, and sissy are all words I’m too familiar with. They have been present in my life for as long as I can remember, and not only because people have applied them to me. Unfortunately, I used these slurs throughout the majority of my life.

I was raised, like many other people, in a cisheteronormative household. Boys were supposed to be tough so they could grow up into men, and girls were supposed to be polite so they could grow up into women; when they grew up, they were supposed to marry each other.

When I broke from the many gender stereotypes that were applied to me – an occurrence that happened more often than not – those slurs were the consequence. I wish I could say that I used them only in an effort to fit in, but that wouldn’t be entirely truthful. I had internalized the cisheteronormative standards I was raised with, and those slurs became a part of my vocabulary.

My ignorance has never been bliss. Throughout my journey to discover that I am genderqueer, trans feminine, and queer, I often felt as if I was doing more damage – to myself and those around me – than I was growth. Looking back, the person that I used to be is not someone I would feel comfortable around today. My behavior was hateful, my words were violent, and my thought process was oppressive. Continue reading “I Was Homophobic, Transphobic, and Misogynistic: My Journey to Acceptance”

Stop Reinforcing Our Oppression: On Dismissing as a Pervasive Tool

photo credit: Second Place Is The First Loser via photopin (license)

Micro-agressions are being discussed a lot more these days. With the work of prominent national movements like #BlackLivesMatter, media outlets like Everyday Feminism, and many local anti-violence organizations, we are beginning to challenge oppression at every level.

One set of micro-aggressions that I encounter frequently is what I call dismissive micro-aggressions. This set of behaviors is rooted in the idea of respectability politics – a belief that we must act and react the way the oppressive class deems appropriate in order to be taken seriously. It doesn’t happen only from people with privilege though. People who have internalized their oppression perpetuate these ideas and participate in this behavior as well. It is one of the ways in which they adhere to respectability politics in an effort to be accepted by a society which ultimately benefits from their oppression.

Dismissive micro-aggressions include, but are not limited to, the following: Continue reading “Stop Reinforcing Our Oppression: On Dismissing as a Pervasive Tool”

The Political Violence of Passive Discourse: Recognizing a Crisis

On October 8, 2015, Malaysia criminalized transgender women based on their appearance in public spaces through judicial ruling. The ruling was a devastating blow to transgender women in Malaysia, as the lower Court of Appeal deemed the law, section 66, unconstitutional on November 14, 2014.

In response to the ruling, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Office issued a statement that calls into question the understanding of transgender issues on every level of government. The UN Human Rights Office headlined the article by stating that they are “concerned by [the] criminalization of transgender women in Malaysia.” This response reveals the political violence engendered in our human rights discourse. The matter of criminalizing transgender women is not a mere matter of concern – it directly endangers their lives and well-being. The article does begin to analyze the reality of the situation, but stops short of discussing the violent consequences of the law.

““This law infringes the rights of transgender women, including the right to live with dignity, to freedom of movement, the right to work, to equality before the law and to freedom from discrimination and freedom of expression,” said Matilda Bogner, the Regional Representative of OHCHR’s Southeast Asia office.”

Such phrases as “the right to live with dignity,” “equality before the law,” and “freedom from discrimination” are all buzzwords that have lost their meaning in the violent struggle against oppression that renders certain lives less than human.

Continue reading “The Political Violence of Passive Discourse: Recognizing a Crisis”